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How to Trace Federal Regulations

If you are seeking out and investigating the origins and statutory authority of federal rules and regulations, this guide will help you address the basics of tracing a federal regulation in order to derive its statutory authority, but also learn more abou

How to Trace Federal Regulations

1. Begin with the Code of Federal Regulation (CFR)

The CFR is "the codification of the general and permanent rules... by the departments and agencies of the Federal Government." The CFR has 50 Titles, each focusing on a subject area which are then broken down into Chapters (often named for the agency that issues the rules included), Subchapters, Parts, and sometimes Subparts, before coming down to individual rules or volumes long.

If you have seen the CFR in print on the 2nd floor federal shelves in Chastek Library, you may have noticed that these soft cover volumes have spines in multiple colors. The color of the spine helps to indicate at a glance when the CFR volumes were printed or updated, which is done cyclically throughout the year.

A monthly publication called the List of CFR Sections Affected, or LSA, "lists proposed, new, and amended Federal regulations that have been published... since the most recent revision date of a CFR title" (see below).

You can locate federal regulations in a variety of sources, including:

Once you have located a CFR section of interest to you, you are ready to move on to the next step.


2. Statutory Authority: Authority Notes

In order for a federal agency, board, or commission to issue a rule or regulation with the force and effect of law, it must derive that authroity from an explicit grant of power by Congress. Congress will often pass a statute that provides a general directive, then grant an administrative body or agency the "regulatory authority" to issue rules and regulations based on the law.

If you are interested in researching the statutory authority of a regulation (for which you already have a CFR citation), you will want to locate the authority note(s) that apply to your section of interest. You can typically find an authority note at the beginning of a larger unit of the CFR, such as at the beginning of a Part and/or the beginning of each Subpart.

Authority notes will list the specific section of a law passed by Congress that authorized the federal agency to promulgate the rules and regulations that follow. It may cite the law in more than one way, by providing multiple


3. Regulatory History: Source Notes

Federal regulations are promulgated through a process referred to as the "rulemaking process". During this, federal regulations are published in two primary sources: the CFR and the Federal Register. The Federal Register is the daily, Monday - Friday, publication of the United States Government.  Federal rules and regulations usually appear at least twice in the Federal Register - once as a proposed rule, to provide the public with notice and with an opportunity to comment on the proposed rule, and again as the final version of the rule.

To learn more about a rule or regulation's history and origins, researchers generally want to trace the rule back from the CFR to where it appears in the Federal Register.

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